Back in business school where we met, we both took a class called Business at the Base of the Pyramid (BBOP) and were greatly inspired by the story of Lapdesk
, a for-profit social enterprise (FOPSE) dedicated to eradicating the shortage of classroom desks at public schools.
This case study and BBOP made us realise that businesses can create double bottom lines—i.e. deliver profits and social impact at the same time—and sparked a dream of building a company that would be a force for good for Southeast Asia, the place we call home.
We started off as a ride-hailing company, helping drivers earn a livelihood, only to open our eyes and see the millions of everyday entrepreneurs: the tuk tuk driver in Phnom Penh, the wet market fishmonger, the Chinatown chicken rice seller we’ve known for the past 20 years.
With more than 70 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in SEA, employing over 140 million people and accounting for 99% of all businesses in the region, everyday entrepreneurs are the bedrock of our economy and the reason Grab expanded its services to become the superapp to millions of such entrepreneurs.
With the Grab Way as our compass, we have not only helped them increase their earnings, but enabled them to earn a living in a way that better supported their life choices and aspirations; be it to spend more time with family, to be their own boss and can control their own destiny, or to give them a platform that opens up new opportunities of growth. This is more than just making an income. This is economic empowerment.
While we’ve already had an impact on this community, we still have a long way to go. First, while we’ve made some progress helping segments of everyday entrepreneurs find a gainful living, many still live hand to mouth and haven’t built up any financial cushion to absorb economic shocks which are bound to come.
Second, advances in technology are accelerating the pace of innovation, and large segments of everyday entrepreneurs are struggling to keep up. Without help, technology that could have been used to empower this community will marginalise them instead.
Both of these translate to a large portion of the region’s population left exposed and vulnerable to macroeconomic factors.
But if we can enable the everyday entrepreneurs of SEA to continue to have a space in the economy, and equip them with the tools and skills to continue being the growth engine of our region, we can avert this pessimistic future, and instead enable shared progress for not only them, but for everyone within their ecosystem.
So for now and for as long as the above continues to hold true, Grab’s mission is to drive Southeast Asia forward by creating economic empowerment for everyone—because everyone should have the option to pursue economic progress for themselves.
Anthony and Hooi Ling